East Central College in Union was home to the world premiere of the new musical “Forgottonia.” With the lyrics, score, and book written by St. Louis native, Colin Healy, this show is in its early stages but is well on it’s way to being a hit.
Based on actual events, the story takes place in the small town of Colchester, Ill in 1968. Brittany Losh plays Jane Horn, who manages her family’s local store and dreams of getting away. Her brother, Jake, is played by Jacob Schmidt and he worries about his father’s political legacy of having a highway built through their town. When the state backs out at the last minute, the citizens are dismayed to be passed over yet again. In an effort to make the towns’ dreams come true and save his father from depression and alcoholism, Jake jokingly plans to secede from the state and form their very own, Forgottonia. He then enlists local heart-throb Neal Gamm, played by Ethan Kleekamp, to help him. Before they get any further with their plan, Gamm is drafted to go to war.
While he’s gone for four years, word gets out to the citizens of the idea and it becomes less of a joke and more of a local uprising. After 4 years, a traumatized Gamm returns home but because of his experiences in battle, he is in no condition to help Jake form the new rogue state. So Forgottonia becomes known, in their local community, as the “51st State that almost never was.”
The show was entertaining right off the bat with the opening number, “Ain’t Nobody Here.” The song sets the tone for the whole show by bringing everyone into the story and then branching out into separate arcs.With superb harmonies and catchy lyrics, the songs bring to life an exciting story that is worthy of the stage. “Dangerous Times” was another standout number that was eerily relevant to the times we currently live in as well as that of the early 1970’s.
Other notable songs include “Blurry” which was beautifully performed by Jane and tells of her longing to get out into the world. “Don’t Have Children” and “Talkin’ Politics” gave us just the right balance of humor and seriousness as Pappy Horn, played by Caleb Long, sings and interacts with his two children.
Being the world premiere, Director Grace Austin was free to run with her imagination and the cast backed up her vision and brought it to life very well. Using simple blocking rather than choreography, the ensemble cast filled numerous roles as the story progressed. Healy provided the Musical Direction and conducted a stellar orchestral performance.
The set, designed by Chris Swanson, was functional and inventive with floating windows that acted as storefronts. Behind that was a multi-level platform that provided the various locations that take place in the show, like a train station, the Horn family home and even a battlefield. Paired with the set was the lighting design, also designed by Swanson, which complimented every aspect of the show.
One of the best decisions by the creative team was the placement of the audience. Instead of selling out their large auditorium, they seated everyone on the stage which provided an intimate atmosphere.
The casting was pretty much spot on. While most of the starring actors, like Brittany Losh and Claire Blythe, carried their parts effortlessly, others fell a little short when they sang. And while the pitch of some may not have been perfect, their delivery of the roles made up for it. Ethan Kleekamp was one of those. He performed the role with passion and conviction as a traumatized young man returning home from the war which left me with goosebumps, but his singing was a little underwhelming.
It was exciting to have seen this world premiere and it will also be nice to see it develop and transform.
“Forgottonia” was performed at East Central College in Union, MO from April 12-15. For more information about the show and to follow its progress, visit Fly North Music.